NetworkManager manages a computer's network connections. It takes care of DHCP negotiation to get an IP address for the computer when its networking is first activated. It lets users select between different wired and wireless networks, configure Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), and connect to the network with modems.

NetworkManager provides an extensive API that lets applications control network connections. However, this is mostly only of interest to the software that implements the core desktop itself. Regular applications can use NetworkManager's API to monitor the online/offline state of the computer, and perform other high-level tasks related to the network.

The core desktop shell in GNOME has a prominent NetworkManager icon; internally it uses the NetworkManager API to change network settings based on the user's choices. Applications such as Evolution, which need to know about the online/offline status of the computer, use NetworkManager as well.